"Mirror mirror on the wall" goes the saying..."who's the youngest of them all?" I ask myself.
Over the last 20 years, the image I had claimed for myself as perpetually twenty-something was well worn and ready for some of the late Nora Ephron's "get real" attitude.
In that time, I had relinquished my reign as a single woman, inherited two stepchildren and started my own consulting business. I considered my life as fairly standard for an educated and career-oriented woman -- save for a splash of international work in Switzerland, a new marriage and my topsy-turvy adventures as a good-humored stepmom and irreverent aunt.
Over the last three or so years, the picture started to look, well, decidedly, worn. Like a classically tailored fine dress, it held up for a couple of decades but I'm not interested in classic styles any more. Its waist is a little too cinched, it's lines too crisp and structured, and the color much too pale. As I challenge the tried-and-true design, I've decided to choose an "off the rack" design for the second half of life -- one I choose with my own internal set of beliefs, now more attractive and available to me than ever before.
Midlife as a Passage
Along with tens of millions of my baby boomer friends, I have embarked on a new journey at a time in life when Madison Avenue uses all its muscle muscle to convince us women that 50 is the new 30 or 60 is the new 40. Really?
Actually, it was in the late 70s when Gail Sheehy was in her late 30s and first wrote the book called Passages. It was a look at midlife not as a crisis but as a necessary passage into the more fulfilling "sunset" years. She would be the first to admit that the first "Passages" book fell short on what would become the real midlife, as she had no idea of what 50 might look like herself in 1976, other than distinctly "old" images of her mother and father. (Since then Ms. Sheehy has written New Passages and Passages in Caregiving, inspiring many women like me to also share my "passage".)
Designing the Second Half of Life
Things are different today, in 2012, as we now know a few things about midlife passages starting with the virtual gateway: menopause. With less estrogen running through our brains, bones and heart, it's a time to make sure that we're doing all we can to live well for the next three or four decades. Research says that if we're healthy 53 year-olds today, chances are pretty good that we'll live into our 90s.
The question then arises: What should we consider to not only live longer, but better during that time?
Well, research emerging from the 10-year old Women's Health Initiative study tells us that we can and should make lifestyle changes now to lay the foundation for the next 30 to 40 years of life. It's time for us midlife women to heed an important call-to-action to slow the progression of "chronic conditions" through healthy lifestyle changes that embrace mind, body and spirit. It's less about medical intervention and health care and more about personal empowerment.
Reframing Health in Midlife: Live Longer AND Better!
Strong is the New Thin. As we women age, it's important to set healthy living priorities, so we can live longer and better. While all experts promote the value of healthy weight, there's a message that is equally as important to convey: It's better to be stronger than thinner as we age.
What You Must Know: You need to have muscle to get rid of fat. Fat only leaves the body if it is burned. The prime motor for this process is our muscle system. If your muscle mass is low, then you burn less fat. If you want to lose weight for either health or aesthetic reasons, you cannot do this by isolated measures such as crash diets. If you lose weight just by dieting, your body will obtain its energy from the muscle in protein and you will lose muscle. Without the support of a strong muscular system, you're putting yourself at risk for poor bone health, including osteoporosis. Many women don't know that bone is crucial, not only for movement and stability, but for maintaining a balance of blood nutrients required for overall health as we age.
How to get strong and prevent osteoporosis. Poor bone health that leads to osteoporosis is preventable and, to some degree, reversible. Try incorporating strength training into your daily activities. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, diet and exercise both play a role. Here's a few muscle-strengthening exercises include activities where you move your body, a weight or some other resistance against gravity. They are also known as resistance exercises and include:
- Lifting weights
- Using elastic exercise bands
- Using weight machines
- Lifting your own body weight
- Functional movements, such as standing and rising up on your toes
Yoga and Pilates can also improve strength, balance and flexibility but make sure you're not at risk for fracture as the postures can be challenging.
What's your story as you Design the Second Half of Your Life? What tips and strategies, emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial are you evaluating to live not only longer BUT better? I'm interested in bringing your comments into my new blog "Design the Second Half of Your Life." I look forward to your contributions and comments.
Yoga offers a myriad of wellness benefits: flexibility, balance, centeredness, strength, mindfulness and others. Yoga is a great option for aging bodies, as it promotes working within your own comfort zone. Postures and sequences range from gentle and relaxing to more intensive for advanced yogis.
Another way to promote flexibility and overall health is incorporating some simple stretches into your daily routine, be it at home, at the gym or even outdoors. Stretching prevents injury, can relieve back pain and boosts energy. Note: It's important to stretch properly to avoid injury. Check out some good examples of stretches here and these common stretching mistakes.
Biking is a great low-impact, cardiovascular workout, not to mention it's a lot of fun. There are a few ways to incorporate biking into your routine. Joy rides in your free time are always a good option -- alone or with a group. You could consider joining a local bike group or riding to nearby destinations instead of taking the car. Stationary bikes also have great health benefits. Already a cycler? Here's how to get more benefit from your bike ride.
One of the most beneficial exercises is something humans have been doing for centuries: walking. Simple modifications to your routine, like parking further away and walking the extra distance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can really add up to boost your overall health. For an even greater benefit, take brisk walks that get your heart rate up.
Pilates is another low-impact exercise that's ideal for aging bodies. It's similar to yoga but puts more emphasis on gaining control and balance of the body by strengthening the core muscles. Pilates can be done in a class or at home with a video or other guide. This piece offers a great run-down of the activity, along with images of some classic pilates stretches and workouts.
Tennis is a classic sport, well-loved for being fun and great for you. It's a strong aerobic workout and helps keep you agile, especially important as you get older. Tennis is also a very social activity -- great for the body, mind and spirit!
Swimming is easy on the body and is also one of the most comprehensive workouts, hitting all the major muscle groups: shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips and glutes. If you're getting serious about swimming, it's important to learn proper techniques, but even free-styling in the local pool or outdoors in the summer is a great way to exercise.
Dancing is one of those activities that doesn't feel like working out, but is an incredible aerobic exercise. It's a good option for those that want more physical activity but don't like the gym or in the winter when it's harder to get outdoors. There are a bunch of styles to choose from: ballroom dancing, contra dancing, salsa, ballet, tap, country and others.
As the body ages, running and jogging can take a toll on the joints, knees or back and potentially cause injury. An elliptical cross-training machine is an alternative to running, which still gets your heart rate up but at a lower impact.
You can take a simple walk to the next level by bringing weights along to build strength in your arms and boost the cardio benefits. Strength-building techniques like pushups, squats and lunges are easy to do at home or can be squeezed into buckets of free time throughout the day.